Worthy Is the Lamb Back to all sermons

Date: April 22, 2011

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Category: Friday

Scripture: Revelation 5:1–5:14

Tags: Good Friday

As we gather today to commemorate the events of Good Friday, what kinds of images fill your mind? If you are like me, they are earthly images, a potpourri of religious art and my own imagination compiled from the Gospel accounts; Jesus sweating drops of blood as he prayed in the garden; the crack of the whip as they flogged him; Jesus falling beneath the weight of his cross; the thud of the hammer as nails were driven through his flesh; the three crosses silhouetted against a dark sky; the pain-filled cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

What about Easter Sunday? What are the images that come to mind? For me, they continue to be earthly pictures. The women coming early to the tomb; Peter and John rushing to investigate the empty tomb; Mary weeping in the garden as she talked to Jesus, thinking he was the gardener, followed by her joy-filled cry when she recognized him; the two disciples walking with Jesus along the road to Emmaus without knowing who he was. They are rich images, filled with human drama and joy and hope.

Today, however, I want to take a different tack. Let’s leave earth. Let’s take a peek into heaven. Let’s look at how Good Friday and Easter are remembered and commemorated in heaven and in eternity. The door is ajar. In Revelation 4:1, the Apostle John writes: After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. Let’s slip in with John and take a look.

Chapter 4 describes an incredible scene of the throne room of heaven. The One seated on the throne is describe only in terms of beauty, not features; he is compared to beautiful gem stones and surrounded by a rainbow. In front of the throne is a sea of glass as clear as crystal. It is a worship scene. The throne is surrounded by 24 more thrones on which are seated 24 elders. There are four living creatures, angels surrounding the throne, crying out “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” The elders are falling down in worship and laying their crowns before the throne as they join in the great chorus.

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”

It is a remarkable scene, reminiscent of Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6 in which he was also transported into heaven and saw the throne of God and heard the angels in worship. This, then, is the setting. But what does it have to do with Good Friday and Easter? Let’s continue into Revelation 5.

John sees that in the right hand of the one on the throne is a scroll, sealed with seven seals. The scroll is filled with writing on both sides. But it cannot be read because it is sealed. A mighty angel begins to cry out. “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”

What is written on the scroll? The following chapters in Revelation will reveal that they are coming judgments of God against the earth. But in chapter 5 the dilemma is to find one who is worthy to open the scroll and set the final events of earth’s history into motion. A search is made and no one is found in heaven or on earth or even under the earth. John begins to weep, but he is comforted by one of the elders.

Listen to the elder’s words: “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

“A worthy one has been found. He is the Lion of Judah!” Who is this Lion of Judah and where does this title come from? It is the only time it is used in the entire Bible. It is a reference that carries us all the way back to the book of Genesis, in Genesis 49:8-10. Jacob is prophesying over his sons and he comes to his fourth son, Judah. And this is what he says:

“Judah, your brothers will praise you;
your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
9 You are a lion’s cub, O Judah;
you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs
and the obedience of the nations is his.

This is a dual fulfillment prophecy. A ruler will come from the tribe of Judah. The first fulfillment was David, the greatest of Israel’s kings, the man after God’s own heart. But there is another fulfillment to come of a descendant of David who will sit on David’s throne and rule the nations for all eternity. This is the Messiah, for which the nation was waiting throughout their long history. Now, in heaven, John hears this announcement; the Lion of the tribe of Judah is the one who is able to open the scroll. Another title is added: the Root of David. This is another Old Testament title that is given to identify the Messiah. In Isaiah 11:1 we read: A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

Isaiah 11:10 continues with a similar imagery. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.

The passages in Isaiah’s prophecy take the genealogy back a step further to David’s father, Jesse. But in both cases the reference is clearly to the coming Messiah who would be a descendant of Jesse and of David, and from the tribe of Judah. This is why the Gospels make such a point of Jesus’ genealogy. That is why it was so significant when the multitudes cried on Palm Sunday, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.” Now this one is present in heaven. The Messiah is ready to take the scroll and set the final chapters of earth’s history in motion. The elder adds this declaration. He has triumphed. He is the Conqueror, the Victorious One.

At these words, John turns his eyes toward the throne to see the magnificent sight. This is when the image shifts. He looks, expecting to see a lion. And what does he see? It is difficult to fully recapture the shock value in the next words of John: Then I saw a Lamb… He looked for a Lion and he saw a Lamb! Could there be any greater contrast in creatures from the animal kingdom? The lion; the fierce, strong, lordly king of the beasts and the small, helpless, vulnerable lamb? As if the image of the animal itself were not shock enough, this Lamb is said to be “as if slain.” The word carries the idea of slaughtered for sacrifice.  Not just a lamb, but a sacrificed lamb!

The Lamb is described as “standing in the center of the throne.” I am not sure exactly what that looked like in terms of spatial imagery. The Lord God Almighty is seated on the throne and the Lamb is standing in the midst of the throne. And when he takes the scroll from the hand of the One who sat on the throne, the 24 elders and the living creatures fell down in worship before the Lamb. It is interesting to note that while the title “Lion of Judah” is not used again, the image of the Lamb is used 28 more times in the Book of Revelation to refer to Jesus, the Messiah. And what is crystal clear as we compare this passage with the passages to follow, is that the Lamb who was slain is the Lion of Judah.

He came once to die. He is coming again to conquer and to rule. The crucified, risen Christ is the coming, conquering King. They are one and the same person. But here is an even more remarkable truth. It is on the basis of his sacrificial death that he is considered worthy to rule. Remember, they were looking for someone who was worthy to open the seals; to set loose the judgments of God upon the earth. The elder announces that the Lion of the tribe of Judah was “able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” On what is that ability, that worthiness based? Notice what the elders and the angels sing as they fall in worship before the Lamb:

And they sang a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”

Did you notice that? You are worthy…because you were slain. The Messiah is worthy to rule because he was willing to die. Here we are face to face with the great paradox of Good Friday and Easter. These are two events, two poles of the Christian faith which can never be separated. He is ready to reign because he died. He died in order to reign.
I must admit, I saw this in a new light or a new emphasis as I was studying this week. I have tended to think of Good Friday as a sad day, when Satan triumphed, and Easter as the Christian’s day of victory when Jesus conquered him by the power of his Resurrection. So when I read the reference in Revelation 5:5 which says,  See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed, my assumption was that his triumph came on Easter with his resurrection. But this week I kept running across these other Scriptures.

Hebrews 2:14-15:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

 Did you see that? It was “by his death” that Jesus destroyed the devil and freed us from his power and from the fear of death.

Consider also Colossians 2:13-15:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Jesus conquered on the cross! He won the victory by his death. His death overcame the forces of evil in heavenly places. It was his blood that purchased our freedom. This was the great plan of God. It comprises the heart of this hymn of worship that is sung around the throne of God in Revelation 5:9.

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.

The word for “purchased” means literally to buy in the market place. To purchase a slave with the purpose of setting him free. We were in slavery to sin, to the devil, to the fear of death. The Lamb of God died to purchase our freedom, to redeem us from Satan’s kingdom. But it was redemption with a purpose. We were not just redeemed from. We were redeemed for. He purchased us “for God.” We are part of a great host of those from “every tribe and language and people and nation” whom Christ has made into a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. (verse 10)

This all happened on the cross. This is the testimony of Scripture. John the Baptist prophetically declared in John 1:29: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Peter writes in I Peter 1:18-19:

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Jesus redeemed us on the cross. Jesus overcame sin, the devil and death by dying himself. Jesus won the victory on Good Friday. Then what is the place of Easter and the Resurrection? On Good Friday the victory was won. On Easter that victory was declared and demonstrated. This is what Paul says in Romans 1:3-4:

the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

On Good Friday; victory won. On Easter; victory declared. The two truths can never be separated. The Lion of Judah is the Lamb who was slain. He was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. He is Jesus Christ our Lord.

There are some additional implications which we will do well to pay attention to. As I was pondering the image of Jesus as the Lamb, I scanned the additional references to the Lamb in the Book of Revelation. They make sobering reading. In chapters 6-8, the Lamb opens the seven seals, and the judgment of God is released on the earth. There is an unsettling reference in Revelation 6:16: They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!

It is important for us to realize that the crucified, risen Christ is the coming, conquering King. He reigns in heaven now. He will return to judge this rebellious word and to restore his rule on earth.

This is why it is so important for us to go beyond thinking of Good Friday and Easter as simply a time of remembering events long past. Yes, they are historical events. Yes, it is important for us to remember them. But if we stop there, these images can become little more than a warm security blanket; a piece of our cultural heritage; an album of family pictures to take out and look at from time to time with nostalgic eyes.

We must realize that the the crucified, risen Christ is the coming, conquering King. His death and resurrection have profound implications for our present as well as our future. There is an implication of the resurrection which the Apostles preached, but which is often overlooked in preaching today. We see it in Peter’s preaching in Acts 10:39-42:

We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. But now notice the application Peter makes:  42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.

Paul makes the same point in his message in Athens on Mars Hill in Acts 17: 31:

For God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

Jesus’ resurrection is not only a declaration of his victory on the cross, but it is also proof that God has appointed him the judge of the living and the dead and the One who will come to establish God’s rule and his justice upon the earth. If he is appointed judge of all, then everyone sitting in this room this morning has an appointment. We will one day stand before him. We can stand before him as those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Or we can be among those who shrink in terror before the wrath of the Lamb. The choice is ours, but it is a choice which we must make now, on this side of the grave. When we appear before him, it will be too late.

This is why the truths of Good Friday and Easter are so critically important, both on earth and in heaven. Both now and in eternity. My prayer for everyone in this room is that you will trust in the crucified and risen Jesus as Savior. That you will be one of those whom the Lamb has purchased for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.

Prayer of Invitation

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they sang:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!”

We often say that ECC, with our 60+ nationalities is a foretaste of heaven, a microcosm of that great congregation of the redeemed who will join the chorus of worshippers around the throne. We have been gazing through the open door of heaven. Now, in our imaginations, let’s slip in and join the great multitude in singing: He is the Lion of Judah, the Lamb that was slain…

QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION

  1. Share your most cherished Good Friday/Easter celebration memory.
  2. If you were an artist, what are the scenes of Good Friday/Easter you would most like to capture on canvas?
  3. Read Revelation 5 together. What emotions does this passage evoke for you?
  4. What adjectives would you use to describe a lion? What adjectives would you use to describe a lamb? What are the implications of the fact that Jesus is described by both titles?
  5. “Good Friday: victory won. Easter: victory declared.” Do you agree or disagree? (Pastor Cam referred to Hebrews 2:14-15, Colossians 2:13-15 and Romans 1:3-4. Feel free to make reference to other Scriptures in your discussion.)
  6. Why is it important to consider the implications of Good Friday/Easter from the perspective of heaven as well as earth?